Why is it so hard to choose a Bible translation?

Posted: 29th May 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Translation

Joe Myzia has an interesting post about Bible translation philosophies on TNIV Truth, raising some great questions about how and why we each choose what type of Bible to use. I left a lengthy comment in his post, but wanted to explore the topic a little more here as well.

First, a little bit of background: I’m soon to be 35. I acquired a fierce affection for the underdog growing up in Alaska and now live in Minnesota. I grew up in non-denominational family churches, but have bounced around for the past 10 years from Lutheran to non-denominational to Evangelical Covenant. I hate church politics and the fighting over Bible translations by the various “theological camps”, but yet still quixotically believe there’s a “right answer” when it comes to finding a Bible translation.

I think that many of my problems in choosing a Bible translation to use are rooted in my innate personality preference to mull over lots and lots of questions or options and never make or stick to a decision (I’m an INTP in the Myers-Briggs world). I will read everything I can about a translation and explore lots of different issues until I’m ready to commit to it, but then inevitably always find something that causes me to move on to the next translation. Classic INTP behavior and it drives my wife nuts!

I will also freely admit that as an American consumer, I’ve been a sucker for “get the best” marketing, especially the “literal is best” message. I grew up on the NASB77 and naturally interpreted the NASB’s “most literal” marketing as “the NASB is the best Bible”. When I wanted to get a new Bible a few years back, the NASB95 was the first translation I turned to and after much research, I found an excellent reference edition from Foundation. When the ESV came out, it was positioned as “a more readable NASB” – perfect marketing for someone like me and I bought a copy, albeit a cheap hardback since Crossway’s bindings were definitely not reviewed as “the best”.

I actually liked the ESV text before I read more about how it was mostly just an evangelical (argh!) revision of the older RSV and then about how its supporters were attacking the new TNIV (even though I didn’t much care for the NIV). That naturally caused me to look into the TNIV as an “underdog” translation to the end that I’ve actually been moving toward adopting the TNIV full-time as “the best” compromise of literal and dynamic approaches. But after reading through the lengthy comments in the TNIV/monotheism post, I now find myself wondering how important the original Hebrew rhythm and verse structure is (to me) and if the TNIV is really “the best” choice for that…

Maybe I should just go back to my NASB77 Open Bible that I received when I was 13 and clear the rest of my shelf…

  1. R. Mansfield says:

    Alas, I can never go back to back to my original NASB Open Bible because in college I gave it to my girlfriend at the time, who turned about to be a bit off her rocker. She wrote all kinds of weird thoughts and feelings in the margins, and even though she gave it back to me after we broke up, what am I going to do with it now–with all its weird pink highlighting and freaky comments?

    However, I can still relate somewhat because every Sunday morning, I’m tempted to grab my NASB 95 wide margin which I still use for writing notes. I’d be perfectly willing to go completely to the TNIV as a primary Bible, but it’s impossible to do so until I can fully replace my NASB.

    However, I might have some postive news about the TNIV Reference Bible later today. Watch for something over at TNIVTruth.

    BTW, I’m an ENTP.

  2. elshaddai says:

    Thanks for the comment, Rick. I’ll keep an eye on TNIV Truth… and I need to get going on my New Testament translation comparisons. John 3:16 was actually one that I was going to comment on, given the interesting differences between the HCSB, REB and others. The REB is just outstanding in so many places in the NT – it really makes some of Paul’s logic a little clearer.
    BTW, I’m an ENTP.
    My wife is an ESFJ – the exact opposite of me. Creates some very interesting dynamics in decision making and planning… good thing we knew that before we got married!

  3. seeker says:

    I have relied on the NKJV for 20 years, eschewing the NASB because of it’s awkward english. The NKJV seemed the best combination of readability and literal translation, with the added benefit of having familiar KJV prose.

    However, upon reading the Greek for 1 Timothy 2:10, I was unhappy with the translation of the word “Sodomite,” since the Greek word says nothing of Sodom.

    I soon found the ESV (which translates the Greek into “homosexual”) to be more accurate in this instance, and began warming to the ESV. Additionally, it maintains the familiar prose I like, even if it is less like modern English in many cases.

    But I’m not entirely sure that the ESV is literal enough for my liking. I’ve looked into the NRSV and the HCSB, but I find the latter too unlike the NKJV, and not always literal enough. Currently, I am looking into the NRSV.

    I have totally avoided the TNIV, mostly because of the negative propaganda, and the fact that I don’t like the NIV. But based on all I am reading here and other places, perhaps I should take another look at the TNIV.

    Sigh. For now, it’s the NKJV. And why is no one enamored any more with the TLB? I love that translation, and consistently find it accurate in its interpretations. The NLT doesn’t seem to be an improvement to me – it’s not really much like its predecessor.

  4. […] For a previous post I’d written on this topic, see this link. Explore posts in the same categories: bible translations, choosing a […]

  5. Faith says:

    I have heard that there is a new version of the Bible translated that is to be avoided because instead of using “lord” it uses “he” loosely. I wanted to know if anyone knew what version/translation that was/is? Thank you.